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Morton Arboretum festival focuses on Asian culture, customs

A dragon dance is one of several performances during a past Destination Asia Festival at the Morton Arboretum.
A dragon dance is one of several performances during a past Destination Asia Festival at the Morton Arboretum.

LISLE – A variety of trees and shrubs native to Asia can be found at the Morton Arboretum, so it only makes sense the facility hosts an annual festival that celebrates Asian culture.

“We have a storied history with Asia,” said Kelley Regan, senior public relations manager for the Morton Arboretum.

The fifth annual Destination Asia Festival will be Aug. 3 through 5 at the arboretum. The event will feature music and dance performances, martial arts demonstrations, Asian food, educational seminars and an opening ceremony featuring floating candle-lit lanterns on the arboretum's Meadow Lake.

Toro nagashi is a Japanese tradition where candle-lit lanterns are released into rivers to guide the spirits of ancestors back to the other world during the Obon season. This is the second year the arboretum has incorporated the tradition into its festival.

“It’s very ethereal. It’s very pretty,” Regan said. “It’s a serene start to an action-packed weekend.”

Lanterns for the ceremony, which begins at 8:15 p.m., can be purchased ahead of time for $10. Participants are encouraged to arrive early to decorate the lanterns.

The opening night festivities also will offer visitors a chance to learn about the arboretum’s scientific efforts and collaboration with researchers in Asian nations to protect and conserve trees, Regan said. The arboretum is home to ginkgo trees and the endangered paperbark maple tree from China.

Dancing, drumming, a traditional Chinese lion dance and authentic Asian cuisine also will be highlighted on the first night of the festival.

The festival continues Aug. 4 and 5 with a wide variety of demonstrations, entertainment and learning opportunities. Ten Asian nations will be represented at the festival, but many of the performers hail from DuPage County, Regan said.

The fest will have five performance areas designed to showcase a variety of demonstrations such as Sumo wrestling, Mongolian throat singing, traditional ensemble music from Bali known as gamelan and an interactive Bollywood dance party.

The fest also will showcase martial arts demonstrations, music and dancing from the Philippines, Korea and Indonesia, Japanese shinkendo swordsmanship and Japanese storytelling.

"The performance lineup has gotten bigger and better every year," Regan said.

So too has the festival's attendance. More than 20,000 people attended the 2017 edition of the fest, she said.

“It’s very popular,” Regan said.

Visitors also wills have the opportunity to try their hand at games and activities common in Asian countries, including cricket and badminton. Meanwhile, the Prairie State Bonsai Society Show will feature demonstrations in the ancient Japanese art of bonsai, sculpting and pruning trees for ornamental purposes.


If you go

WHAT: Destination Asia Festival

WHEN: 6 to 9 p.m. Aug. 3, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Aug. 4 and 5

WHERE: Morton Arboretum, 4100 Route 53, Lisle

COST: Free with arboretum admission

INFO:, 630-968-0074

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